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Rice mill and cooperative is the most requested project in the remote areas in the Cordillera region where rice is the primary crop. This is because shortage is often experienced given the situation that rice farms are limited to about 0.2 hectares per family in the Cordillera interiors. Most of the communities produce rice once a year thus, it is only able to produce the rice needs of the family from 2-4 months.

There is rice shortage but at the same time there is a need for a rice mill. Farmers’ organizations, especially women see the rice mill as a tool to unburden them from the backbreaking labor of pounding rice. This is particularly true among Kalinga women who by culture are the ones in charge of the work.

There had been a lot of rice mill projects assisted by service non-government organizations belonging to the consortium of the Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera region (CDPC) where the Cordillera Women’s Education Action Research Center Inc (CWEARC) is included. Some of the rice mill and cooperatives prospered which is primarily attributed to the unity and perseverance of women and peoples’ organizations who led these projects. Some of these projects however failed.

Learning the hard way from a rice cooperative
Earlier in 1996, a rice cooperative was run by the local women’s organization in Mabaca with financial assistance from Cordillera Women’s Education Resource Center (CWERC). The chapter of Innabuyog-Kalinga Apayao facilitated the partnership. Nine cavans of rice then was provided as the initial revolving capital which families of the women’s organization borrowed in times of critical rice supply. Rice borrowed is returned usually during harvest time with a small interest to increase the volume of rice being revolved among members who are in dire need of rice.

The failure however of the rice cooperative as shared by the women’s organization is attributed to the low management capacity of and skills in managing a socioeconomic project. In the short course of practice, the rice cooperative was privatized by some officers, transparency was not developed and collective management was not facilitated.

The organization also acknowledged that there were no committees created to oversee the cooperative’s operation. There were no systems enforced to ensure that the cooperative is operating smoothly. The rice loans turned out as dole-out because there was no clear policy of payment and collection of payments. Moreover, loans were not well recorded, use of loan payments was not accounted and an audit was never conducted.

These explain an outstanding point in their assessment that the rice cooperative did not deliver its function of contributing to advance a community livelihood project.

Members of the women’s organizations lamented strained relationship within the organization due to how the project turned out. They have truly learned the hard way. Although disheartened, they have been looking forward to revive the cooperative. Given the chance, they said, they already know the needs in order to manage a project well.

Bringing their lessons to greater heights
Having been granted the second chance, their next project turned out to be one of the success stories in the socio-economic work in the region. The project is a micro-hydro which powered a rice mill of the rice cooperative, energized all houses of 36 households and powered a community blacksmith of sitio Bayowong, Barangay Mabaca of the Municipality of Balbalan in Kalinga province. It started with the desire of the Mabaca Farmers’ Alluyon (MFA) to relieve the women in the community from the hard work of pounding rice.

On April 2001, the project took off with the assistance from Montañosa Research and Development Center (MRDC) and other partner non government organizations (NGO) in the region. The operation of the rice mill cum rice cooperative and community blacksmith began in 2003.

Mabaca Farmers’ Alluyon
All the farmers, including women in the village are members of this organization. This was formed because of the farmers’ desire to work together in order to be able to bring development in their community. They are one in the belief that unity will enable them to survive the difficulties that severe poverty brings. They then sought the support of NGOs for the aforementioned socio-economic project and it was granted by MRDC and other partner institutions.

According to their narration during the socio-economic workshop on March this year, working for the project did not end when it was granted. It was only the beginning of hard work and struggle for the members of MFA to solve the encountered problems in putting the rice mill up. It was an achievement in progress. The process itself was a learning journey for them starting from the planning until rice cooperative’s full operation.

Project cost
The all over cost of the project is P1.2 million (US$28,571.50) including the counterpart of the peoples’ organization (PO). Half of the cost is loan and the other half is grant. Also part of MFA’s counterpart to the project is the manual hauling of purchased materials, widening and clearing of irrigation canal, producing locally hand sawed lumber and voluntary labor until its full operation.

A learning process
As a farmers’ organization that is not adept in the management and operation of such livelihood project, it was a journey of learning. First was setting up of the micro-hydro project as a source of energy for the rice mill, lighting of houses and eventually set up a blacksmith that is also powered by the hydro.

Before the project started, the members of MFA went to a learning trip in barangay Ngibat in the municipality of Tinglayan, also in Kalinga province. It is in this barangay where an existing rice mill cooperative which is providing them electricity used for light and in the blacksmith is located. This is an example of a successful socio-economic project which continues to operate as of press time. Further, this micro hydro project is one of the pioneering success stories of MRDC in developing appropriate technology among indigenous peasant communities in the Cordillera. When electricity from the Kalinga Electric Cooperative (KAELCO) finally reached the said community, most of the people decided not to connect with it. Their reason was, the electricity produced by the rice mill is enough for their energy needs.

MFA learned a lot from Ngibat Rice Mill Cooperative. Participants of the learning trip told that the success story of Ngibat gave them strength to continue the same project in their own community. MRDC and other partner NGOs helped MFA with the basic skills in operating the micro-hydro project, the rice mill and cooperative and the community blacksmith. During the earlier months in operating the technology, the officers and the whole of MFA were guided by MRDC in instilling the right orientation in managing the technology and the use of the technology in galvanizing community unity.

By 2003, all houses consisting of 36 households enjoyed lighting until 10 o’clock at night. This allowed children to study their lessons and enabled folks to do their weaving of baskets, mats and other handicrafts in the night. Light is opened at 4o’clock in the morning allowing the peasants to do the home chores and preparation for their school-going children while they equally prepare their needs for their farm work. When there is a community occasion, the energy supply is available for overnight.

The rice mill began its operation in 2003. The rice mill charges P7.00 (US$0.16) per can (the size of a 17- kilogram cooking oil) or 2 chupas (large size of a sardine can) of milled rice for every can of unmilled rice.

Like that of Tanglag, members of the MFA were taught on the principles of collective ownership thus avoiding the overruling of self – interest among members which will prevent the occurrence of petty corruption. The association then created guidelines of the rice mill cooperative. They formed committees with specific tasks. It was stressed in the guideline that there shall be no credit and a member should not be absent during his/her shift in manning the operation unless there is a valid reason.

Present status of the project
As of the moment, the project is smoothly moving forward. According to the MFA, they applied all the lessons they have learned during the earlier months of operation. The beneficiaries have also expanded. It is now serving not only the residents of Bayowong but also nearby villages who are buying palay in their community. Moreover, it is now generating electricity that they are using as a source of light and used in the blacksmith.

The project did not only relieve the women from pounding rice but it has benefited the whole community. According to them, there is already no need for them to buy farm tools in the town center because people in the community can already forge bolos, knives and other farm tools.

Challenges met
The leaders of the MFA said, the biggest problem they have encountered is the non cooperation of the other members of the community who did not believe that the project can prosper. The rice mill cooperative was told to be a project of the New Peoples Army (NPA) and local community members who were affected by that false tagging refused to be part in the beginning. The fear dominated among some community members.

However, the leaders and majority of the members of the farmer’s association were determined to pursue the project, asserting that it is theirs and it is for the benefit of their association and community. The state of government neglect where social services is nil in the area propped up MFA’s determination for this project. They put their best efforts in order for the project to push through until such time that the aforementioned section of the community who were not participating earlier were convinced that the rice mill is a good project and it can benefits all of them.

Manang Fely Gonayon, one of the staunch women leaders proudly acknowledges the improved management capacity of the farmers’ association which she also believes is a process of transforming attitudes and mindsets of women to work together, trust on their capacities and putting worth to or valuing their contributions.

Members of the MFA said that it is normal in a community to have some member not cooperative in the beginning but in the end, they will come in when they see that the peoples’ organization is united and have the strong will to make the project successful. It is also a test on the flexibility and patience of the association in managing community members being a community institution which is wielding unity of minds who are strongly influenced by an attitude of “to see is to believe”.

MFA believes that there is a need to widen the villages that the rice mill is serving. In order to attain this, its membership and leadership are convinced that there is a need for them to be informed and trained on issues relative to energy and electricity in order to maximize the project. The technical knowledge
and trainings will accompany the sustained leadership trainings among the farmers, women and the youth groups to be able to manage effectively and efficiently the project, defend the project from destruction most possibly from militarization and demand more of this kind of service primarily from government units and concerned agencies, and from the services of civil society organizations.